Smith-Woofter pleased with settlement

Published 8:38 am Thursday, July 23, 2015

JACKSON – Even though the settlement fell far short of a $2.5 million request, Northampton Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Monica Smith-Woofter said she was satisfied with a plan that adds a shade over a half-million dollars to the Board of Education’s budget for 2015-16.

As reported in Tuesday’s edition, the Northampton Board of Commissioners and School Board struck a deal on Monday that adds $550,000 in local funds to the county’s school system.

According to documents that detailed the plan, the Commissioners will allocate an additional $275,511.12 for the Board of Education’s current expense fund, bringing that total appropriation to $3,575,511.12. In the capital outlay budget, the Commissioners agreed to add $274,488.88 thus resulting in a new budget totaling $619,488.88.

The two boards jointly conducted a mediation session on July 7 with Winston-Salem attorney Thorns Craven where Smith-Woofter explained why the additional funds were needed while County Manager Kimberly Turner countered by presenting financial facts of a tight budget year.

“Speaking on behalf of our school system, I was very pleased that we were able to compromise and reach an agreement,” Smith-Woofter said. “I’m pleased this did not reach a point where we would have been forced to use civil litigation in a court of law to settle this issue.”

Smith-Woofter outlined how the added funding will be used.

“For the new money in current expense funds, we have immediate plans for pay level adjustments for our classified staff,” she said, adding those employees include office staff, custodial, transportation and child nutrition positions, and teacher assistants. “While this represents only about one-third of what these employees deserve in raises due to their longevity, it at least moves them up one pay level and not have their salaries frozen like they have been over the course of many years.

“It will also allow us the local matching funds needed for a grant we received,” she added.

The Superintendent said the extra capital outlay funds will be used for roofing projects at several schools (totaling $140,000) and replacing a $110,000 chiller at Conway Middle School.

When asked why the school system’s original request for $2.5 million in additional local funds was so large, Smith-Woofter had a simple explanation.

“That request was specific to the requirements of grade configuration as we downsize and close schools in an overall effort to trim operating costs,” she said. “If we opt not to move forward with building a new middle school/high school, then we have to look at grade configuration and performing those upgrades to retrofit an older school and make it accessible for younger students, especially at the Pre-K and Kindergarten level, is a very costly venture.”

Smith-Woofter pointed to the aging school buildings in the county – Willis Hare Elementary in Pendleton and Squire Elementary in Gaston were both built in 1957; the original portion of Conway Middle School was also constructed in ’57 while Northampton High School was built in 1963 – as proof to the need of making a capital investment in the county’s educational infrastructure.

To that end, the county commissioners and school board, as part of the plan they hammered out on Monday, agreed to allow Northampton voters to decide the fate of a supplemental property tax that will cover the costs of building a combined middle school/high school that will be centrally located in the county.

“We are happy over the fact that this issue will be decided by the voters of our county,” Smith-Woofter said.

She added that both boards are working together to help meet the needs of the school system.

“As other county debt comes off the table, we can reroute some of that to help our schools,” Smith-Woofter said. “There are some cost savings on our end as well. If we proceed with a new combined high school and middle school, we can proceed with grade configuration at our other schools. That saves us money in the long run as we lower our operational costs. Those savings can also help offset the reoccurring costs linked to the salary adjustments we have planned.”

A voter referendum will be scheduled for May 2016 to decide the fate of the supplemental tax, the proceeds of which will be earmarked totally for the new school. Should that measure fail, both boards will work together to address the Board of Education’s consolidation needs for existing facilities, taking into account the county’s revenue.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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